Sometimes the Holy Spirit unexpectedly raises an issue with the people of God by using the criticisms of secular culture. In the midst of the furore created by the ABC’s 7.30 Report on domestic violence in the Church someone commented to me by email;
“Interesting story and sound biblical teaching is required from the pulpit and the Bride of Christ i.e. the Church would be traumatised if the Groom i.e. Jesus, treated women as some men do as portrayed in this story.” To which I replied; “Pointing us to Jesus, as you have done, is exactly the right response.
But I think the church is already largely traumatised because so many leaders do treat her in an abusive way!” This might sound like a harsh judgement on my part but I have some sound reasons to support it.
At the entranceway of the local Anglican Church I attend is a large poster with a definition of abuse that includes physical, mental, sexual and spiritual damage “and neglect”.
In my experience neglect is the most common and most overlooked dimension of abuse – in marriages, households and churches. This is both because neglect is not as obviously damaging as other forms of abuse and because it tends to become culturally institutionalised in many churches.
My observation is that many pastors across a wide sweep of Christian traditions no longer care for their people in a manner to which they have been called by Christ. Jesus both Bridegroom and Shepherd of the sheep and he calls pastors to image his love for his flock in very intimate ways (1 Peter chapter 5 verse 3). Leaders of God’s people have often failed the depths of this vocation.
Repeatedly in the Old Testament God rebukes those who are unfaithful shepherds, “the weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought,” (Ezekiel chapter 34 verse 4).
Similar blunt language is used when Paul warns of elders who are ““vicious wolves...not sparing the flock”” (Acts chapter 20 verse 29). Shockingly, Jude (verse 12) describes “shepherds who feed only themselves”. Some of these people may be scoundrels intentionally into religion for profit but the more common problem today is one of unthinking pastoral neglect.
Many congregations have leaders who rely heavily on personal charisma but whose research into the scriptures is lean. These lazy shepherds are responsible for, “a famine ...of hearing the words of the LORD” in our time (Amos chapter 8 verse 11).
Others would be too embarrassed to confess to their flock the poverty of their prayer lives. But the trend I personally find most grievous is the sharp decline in pastoral visitation. With clergy becoming more paid for service employees of churches rather than family friends’ visits to talk and pray in the family home, or at the workplace, have dwindled towards non-existence.
This is especially the case in large churches. Compare these omissions to the images of beautiful shepherding in scripture.
God excitedly pronounces through the prophet Jeremiah; “flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the LORD.” (chapter 33 verse 13). Pastoral work is a real “hands on” ministry.
My Greek teacher used to translate Jesus’ words in John chapter 10 verse 11 as, “I am the beautiful shepherd”. Christ is the one who calls his own sheep by their personal names, and places himself across the entrance of the sheepfold (John chapter 10 verses 3, 7).
The predators must come through a real pastor if they are to devour the sheep. The implications of such intimate care are enormous. Sins such as domestic violence, and many other ills unbefitting disciples of Christ, will be exposed and come under the healing nurture and discipline of the Church.
We are all faced with a choice. We can opt for status quo submission to a “times have changed” attitude influenced by a culture that has been stripped of true intimacy. Or we can pray like mad for a restoration of the presence of the beauty of Christ seen in true shepherds.
Passivity means capitulation to a crisis in godliness amongst us; so the choice is clear.
Let’s all pray for a revelation of the Beautiful Shepherd at the centre of every Christian community.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html